In Haitian Vodou, Papa Legba is the loa who serves as the intermediary between the loa and humanity. He stands at a spiritual crossroads and gives (or denies) permission to speak with the spirits of Guinee, and is believed to speak all human languages.
He is always the first and last spirit invoked in any ceremony, because his permission is needed for any communication between mortals and the loa—he opens and closes the doorway.
In Haiti, he is the great elocution, the voice of God, as it were. Legba facilitates communication, speech and understanding. In the Yoruba pantheon, honored in Nigeria, Cuba, Brazil, and elsewhere in the Yoruba diaspora, Ellegua is mostly associated with Papa Legba since both share the role of being the god of the crossroads. In contrast to Papa Legba, however, Eleggua is a trickster child. Legba also shares similarities to Orunmila, the orisha of prophesy who taught mankind how to use the Ifá oracle.
He usually appears as an old man on a crutch or with a cane, wearing a broad brimmed straw hat and smoking a pipe, or sprinkling water. The dog is sacred to him. Because of his position as "gate-keeper" between the worlds of the living and the mysteries he is often identified with Saint Peter who holds a comparable position in Catholic tradition. He is also depicted in Haiti as St. Lazarus[disambiguation needed], and St. Anthony.
In Benin and Nigeria, Legba is viewed as young and virile, is often horned and phallic, and his shrine is usually located at the gate of the village in the countryside.
Alternatively, he is addressed as Legba, Legba Atibon, Atibon Legba, Ati-Gbon Legba.
In popular culture
In the 1972 novel, Mumbo Jumbo, by Ishmael Reed, the main character is a Voodoo priest named Ppa Labas after Papa Legba. In 1982, Elton John released a UK B-side titled "Hey, Papa Legba," with lyrics by longtime collaborator Bernie Taupin. The musical groups Talking Heads, The Smalls, Angel, Sun City Girls, and Sun God have also made songs named after him. The Talking Heads song can be found on their 1986 album (and soundtrack to the David Byrne film of the same name), True Stories; the Talking Heads song has been covered regularly by Widespread Panic, whose performance of the song can be heard on their live album, Light Fuse, Get Away.
A 1985 episode of the TV series "Miami Vice" centers around a malign Vodou priest by the name of Papa Legba (played by Clarence Williams III). In keeping with the image of Legba often conceptualised in Haitian Vodou subculture, Legba is depicted walking with the aid of crutches, and smokes a pipe.
There is extensive referencing to Voodoo in the Sprawl trilogy by William Gibson. In the second book, Count Zero, Papa Legba stands at the gateway to cyberspace the "master of roads and pathways," with other loa appearing throughout the book. Papa Legba and Voodoo appear again in Spook Country, a book from one of Gibson's other trilogies.
In Chapter XXII of James Branch Cabell's Jurgen, A Comedy of Justice, Jurgen and Queen Anaitis (lady of the lake) pass a statue of Legba in the courtyard. Jurgen remarks "Now certainly, Queen Anaitis, you have unusual taste in sculpture".
In the 1986 film Crossroads, blues musicians Robert Johnson and Willie Brown sell their souls to a "Mr. Legba" at a Mississippi crossroads. Later in the film Legba takes the name "Scratch".
There is a single reference to Atibon Legba in the song Black Cat Bone on the Mission album The Brightest Light.
Papa Legba is invoked by the Marvel Comics character Brother Voodoo for support.
In 2014 Lance Reddick portrayed Papa Legba in American Horror Story: Coven, where the character is depicted wearing a top hat and black tuxedo jacket, more in keeping with one of the Barons (e.g. Baron Samedi). This depiction is of a crossroads demon rather than the loa of the crossroads.
- McAllister, Cher Love. "Legba". In Carole Boyce Davies. Encyclopedia of the African diaspora: origins, experiences and culture 1. ABC-CLIO. pp. 625–626. ISBN 978-1-85109-700-5. Retrieved June 10, 2011.
- Religion and Anthropology: A Critical Introduction by Brian Morris, pg. 196.
- African Gods and Catholic Saints in the New World Negro Belief by Melville J. Herskovits, doi:[http://dx.doi.org/10.1525%2Faa.1937.39.4.02a00080 10.1525/aa.1937.39.4.02a00080, 1937 American Anthropological Association]
- Widespread Panic official website
- The Haitian Vodou Handbook: Protocols for Riding with the Lwa By Kenaz Filan
- Looking for Mr. Legba By Richard Laister, pg. 12
- The Boston Globe: Q&A with William Gibson
- The Tales of Monkey Island Blog
- 'American Horror Story': 'Fringe' star Lance Reddick joining 'Coven' | Inside TV | EW.com
- Papa Legba, protector of the home and guardian of gates and crossroads photo from Galembo, Phyllis (March 2005). Vodou: Visions and Voices of Haiti. Ten Speed Press. ISBN 1-58008-676-4.